Corolla wild horse stallions are sparring with each other in front of awed summer beach crowds.
They rear up high on their back legs and strike with front hooves, in some cases just a few feet away from beachgoers and their folding chairs, canopies and coolers.
Social media posts in recent weeks show video and photos of stallions fighting next to the surf. Others record them chasing defeated foes down the beach with manes and tails flowing.
The videos attract much attention; typically, a few thousand “like” the posts and several hundred comment. Most say seeing wild stallions battle is one of the most thrilling spectacles they have ever seen.
“Absolutely awesome,” wrote one follower.
But what causes these magnificent creatures to come to blows — and why now?
Stallions fight all year, but summer is when more people are on the Currituck County beaches and watch the drama firsthand, said Meg Puckett, manager of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund.
“They will re-establish their boundaries,” she said. “Most of it is for show. It’s very rarely catastrophic.”
No Corolla stallion has died from a fight, she said.
Roughly 100 wild horses live on an 11-mile stretch of the Outer Banks north of Corolla. The horses divide themselves into harems of mares and foals led by a stallion. Each harem roams an area with loosely defined boundaries.
Stallions typically fight over territory and occasionally over a mare, Puckett said. About half the horses are male, so the competition is stiff to lead a group, she said.
Fighting can get unpredictable and dangerous to people nearby. Puckett recommends people keep at least 50 feet away.
Horse fight using different tactics.
They typically take on an adversary by striking with their front hoofs, biting their opponent’s neck or kicking with their back legs. Most stallions have scars on their bodies from brawls. Some are missing the tips of their ears, Puckett said.
“It’s amazing the scars they have,” she said. “It can get rough.”
At times, a young stallion challenges a veteran without a fight, Puckett said. It’s a form of psychological warfare.
Recently, a young buck followed the harem of an older stallion for months, watching and waiting. The elderly horse tried to keep his mares away from him, but it was no use. The challenger was always close by. The threat of a fight caused the old timer to lose weight and his health declined, Puckett said.
Finally, he gave up his mares to the younger horse. Afterward, he recovered, regained the weight and is doing well, Puckett said.
A stallion named Rambler leads a harem of about 10 mares in an area not far from Corolla. He is often seen by visitors to the beach.
Next to his territory, Acorn leads another large harem. Their clashes are more brotherly quarrels, Puckett said.
“It’s natural behavior that indicates a healthy herd,” she said. “Give them their space.”